Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter shared his congratulatory assessment of the 2014 Legislature after the body adjourned sine die March 20, declaring it had been "one of the smoothest sessions I've ever seen." Flanked by fellow GOP leaders and standing beneath a duded-up portrait of Ronald Reagan, it was clear Otter had been watching a different session.
While lawmakers approved $66 million in increased education funding--almost double the governor's proposal--Idaho school funding still languishes below 2009 levels.
Education funding aside, few of the issues expected to figure prominently in the session--like Medicaid expansion and spending on infrastructure--saw the light of day. Instead, the first half of the 74-day session was a carnival of ideology.
There was the NRA-backed bill allowing holders of enhanced concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on Idaho campuses, pushed through despite opposition from university presidents, students and law enforcement officials from around the state. Then, Otter signed a measure that would make whistleblowing on abuses at Idaho agricultural facilities a crime punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and jail time.
Perhaps the most odious feature of this year's legislative season was in the area of expanded protections for members of the LGBT community. Nearly 200 protesters in favor of adding the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the Idaho Human Rights Act were arrested at the Capitol throughout the session, yet lawmakers failed--for the ninth straight year--to even give a hearing to "Add the Words" legislation. At the same time, two so-called "religious freedom" bills would have provided protections for professionals and businesses wishing to deny services to anyone who offends their "sincerely held religious beliefs." The bills were met with instant, ferocious opposition and quietly buried, but the fact remains that at least they got a hearing.
It's pretty clear that Otter hasn't spoken--or listened--to any of the hundreds of thousands of Idahoans who protested, either in person or via petition, the obsession among some lawmakers to use Idaho as a proving ground for a slate of the most draconian, partisan-fueled laws in the country. Whether legislation aimed at left-handed people (see Feature, Page 13) makes its way into the 2015 Legislature is anyone's guess, but it wouldn't be too far out of character.